How much does it matter where you went to undergrad?

In summary, the conversation discusses the importance of undergraduate school ranking in graduate school applications. While it is a factor, it is not the only determining factor and there are many other important aspects, such as GPA, research experience, and recommendation letters. The conversation also highlights that students from smaller or less prestigious universities can still be accepted into top graduate schools. The key is to focus on studying for the GRE and doing your best in all aspects of the application.
  • #1
Dishsoap
1,017
310
Hey all,

I'm looking at my third year of university here, trying to narrow down what I want to do. As far as graduate schools, I'm pretty confident I can get into at least a low-tier school somewhere. I have a few publications and talks, and found out yesterday that I'm a Goldwater scholar as well. So far I have a 4.0, but I don't expect to graduate with that.

The only downfall on grad school apps for me is my undergrad institution. My school is ranked #221 in the US for physics (LOL). I'm really kicking myself on this one, since in high school I turned down an acceptance from the school that's #4 in the US. I enjoy the school, though, and can't imagine going elsewhere.

As far as GRE scores, the average for people at my school is the mid 500's. I'm going to aim for at least a 700, which should be interesting as the highest GRE score in the past ten years at my school was a 735. I think you get the picture.

Anyway, when I apply to graduate school, how much does it matter where I went to undergrad? Looking at the forums at physics-gre.com, obviously people from Ivy and top 10 schools get accepted to much better schools, but do I stand a chance? Do I even bother applying to the "better" schools (CU-B, Caltech, Stanford, etc.)?

For what it's worth, I'm also a female. Apparently that matters for some stupid reason. But that's another can of worms...
 
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  • #2
Hi Sam.

samnorris93 said:
Anyway, when I apply to graduate school, how much does it matter where I went to undergrad?

It's a hard question to answer i.e. it's not a black or white, "it does" or "it doesn't" type of question. That being said, don't kick yourself over your choice to go to your current university (financial issues aside). There are numerous factors that come way ahead of university ranking: GPA, research, recommendation letters, courses you've taken etc. Focusing only on applications, university ranking is more of a tie-breaker kind of thing. It would be a lie to say university ranking doesn't matter at all because it does without a doubt but it isn't a make or break component of your application.

Sometimes rankings can have indirect adverse affects on your application. Does the university offer rigorous enough physics courses when compared with higher ranked universities? An A or A+ in a physics class doesn't mean much when it is much easier and of a much lower level of rigor when compared to e.g. honors mechanics at UChicago wherein students might on average not get as high a grade after the curve. Does it let you, as an undergrad, take graduate courses? Depending on where and for what you apply to grad school, you'll be competing with undergrads who have taken graduate level GR, QFT, EM, QM etc. Also, how well known and regarded, within their fields of expertise, are the potential professors writing your recs? Do you have research opportunities in your department? These are things you could perhaps ask yourself.

samnorris93 said:
Looking at the forums at physics-gre.com, obviously people from Ivy and top 10 schools get accepted to much better schools, but do I stand a chance?

Just because they're from an Ivy and the likes doesn't mean they're better candidates than you. Don't let the school they come from define them nor yourself. Whether or not you stand a chance depends on numerous other, more important factors. You're comparing yourself to a very specific aggregate class of students. Not everyone at top grad schools in a specific field are from Ivy leagues and the likes. I'm an undergrad at an Ivy and a lot of the theory grad students here are from universities that would fall outside the ranking bracket you mentioned above (I mention theory because I really only know the theory guys here).

samnorris93 said:
Do I even bother applying to the "better" schools (CU-B, Caltech, Stanford, etc.)?

Would you regret it if you didn't?
 
  • #3
Excellent points. It's worth noting, though, that my university does not have a graduate program in physics, so taking grad-level courses is simply not an option.
 
  • #4
It's easier to come from big schools because their programs are generally better because they have more resources and allow you to get more research experience, do better on GREs and stuff like that.

But my undergrad isn't even ranked in physics and doesn't have a PhD program but I was still able to get into MIT, Harvard, etc so you're not actually limited because where your degree is from. They care about the student not where he or she is from.

Just study for the tests and do your best and you should be fine. Really.
 
  • #5
wotanub said:
It's easier to come from big schools because their programs are generally better because they have more resources and allow you to get more research experience, do better on GREs and stuff like that.

But my undergrad isn't even ranked in physics and doesn't have a PhD program but I was still able to get into MIT, Harvard, etc so you're not actually limited because where your degree is from. They care about the student not where he or she is from.

Just study for the tests and do your best and you should be fine. Really.

Interesting! And very encouraging. If you don't mind my asking, what was your GRE score?
 
  • #6
samnorris93 said:
Interesting! And very encouraging. If you don't mind my asking, what was your GRE score?

I just decided to send a PM because I have a lot of opinions I wanted to include.
 

Related to How much does it matter where you went to undergrad?

1. How much does it matter where you went to undergrad?

The importance of where you went to undergrad can vary depending on your field of study and career goals. In some industries, the reputation of your undergraduate institution may hold more weight than in others. Overall, it is just one factor that can influence your future opportunities.

2. Does attending a prestigious undergraduate university guarantee success?

Attending a prestigious university can certainly open doors and provide valuable connections, but it does not guarantee success. Success ultimately depends on an individual's drive, determination, and hard work.

3. Are employers more likely to hire candidates from top undergraduate universities?

In some cases, employers may have a preference for candidates from top undergraduate universities. However, many employers also look at a candidate's skills, experience, and overall fit for the job. Additionally, attending a top university does not guarantee a job offer.

4. Will attending a less well-known undergraduate university hurt my chances of getting into a good graduate program?

While attending a prestigious undergraduate university may give you an advantage in the graduate school application process, it is not the only factor that admissions committees consider. Other factors such as your GPA, test scores, and research experience also play a significant role in the admissions process.

5. Is it worth paying a higher tuition for a more prestigious undergraduate university?

This ultimately depends on your personal circumstances and goals. Consider the potential return on investment in terms of the quality of education, job opportunities, and networking opportunities. It may also be worth considering the availability of financial aid and scholarship opportunities at different universities.

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